Iran’s Nuclear Program


After the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the Iranian nuclear deal, speculation reached a fever pitch about the future of the Middle Eastern powers’ weapons program. While the issue is far from cut and dry, just about everyone agrees that preventing a nuclear-armed Iran is imperative to maintaining stability in the region.

With tensions at an all-time high between Iran and Western powers, there has been no better time to review the turbulent past that led the world to this moment.

Global Perspective

Shortly after WWII, in light of the U.S. detonation of nuclear weapons in Japan and in response to the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was founded in 1953 to help bring stability and peaceful nuclear development to the world.

At around that time the U.S. and Iran were close partners with a strong diplomatic relationship. In 1957 the two countries signed a nuclear cooperation agreement under the Atoms for Peace program. By 1967 the U.S. was helping Iran develop its first research reactor in Tehran. Iran wasn’t the only country to receive assistance with building nuclear energy reactors. The U.S. assisted several other nations, going so far as to provide enriched Uranium as a fuel supply.

However, the amicable relationship was sullied by the 1970s shortly after the Non-Proliferation Treaty went into effect. Iran was one of the original signatories of the treaty, but at the same time began making active strides towards developing weaponized nuclear technology. They began sending students to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study nuclear physics and significantly ramped up their funding of non-civilian nuclear research.

The U.S. maintained good relations with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, but the leader at the time was beginning to lose the trust of his people. The social dissent reached a boiling point in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution. That was a critical turn in the history of Iran and its relationship with the rest of the world.

Iran’s Deception

In the 1980s Iran found their allies suddenly unwilling to help with any projects related to nuclear development. Out of desperation, they began seeking alternative ways of acquiring the necessary supplies and information to finish their weapons project. Former Iranian President, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani sought assistance from the Pakistani government but was denied.

However, a lone Pakistani scientist by the name of Abdul Qadeer Khan covertly shared the designs of a centrifuge for enriching Uranium, provided a list of suppliers and went as far as to assist in the design of a bomb itself. Khan has also been accused of selling nuclear secrets to North Korea and Libya.

Iran managed to hide evidence of their activities until 2002. Dissident groups within the countries’ government exposed previously secret nuclear research facilities, which the IAEA noted were in breach of its safeguards agreement.

The U.N. and IAEA officially demanded that Iran stop its uranium-enrichment programs, but they didn’t. They became more secretive and blatantly denied requests for Western nations and third-party watchdog groups to inspect facilities.

A Short-Lived Breakthrough

Finally, the Iranian government agreed to a deal with the U.S., France, China, the UK, and Germany, called the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Agreement (JCPOA). The deal was touted as a victory and one step closer to a denuclearized Iran, but many critics insisted it didn’t go far enough. As Mark Dubowitz of FDD stated,  it would still allow Iran to continue its nuclear program thanks to impractical oversight measures and a short-term timeline.

Analysts like Dubowitz believe the Trump administration’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear agreement can ultimately be for the best if it leads to stronger enforcement against the country’s nuclear weapons development. In the meantime, Iran’s decades of nuclear secrecy leaves few with the hope that satisfactory agreement can be reached in the foreseeable future. Read more about the CEO of FDD.